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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 9, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 09 February 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Barnardo’s Scotland Nurture Week, Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-26, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time


1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of today. (S5F-00866)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Ruth Davidson

Presiding Officer,

“there is no specific area where able children in Scotland really excel.”

Over the past 10 years, we have seen

“a pronounced and sustained decline in able pupils’ performance in science, equivalent to around a year of schooling”.

Those are not my words: that is the verdict from education experts the Sutton Trust this morning. Can the First Minister explain why a 15-year-old south of the border is more likely to be a high achiever in science than a 15-year-old in Scotland is?

The First Minister

Ruth Davidson refers to the Sutton Trust report, which has just been published. It is an important report, which aids our understanding of the challenges that we need to address in order to tackle the attainment gap. I think that it is important to note, though, that the Sutton Trust does not present new data; its analysis is of the programme for international student assessment scores that were published in December. Of course, the PISA scores are based—this is quite important—on a survey that was carried out two years ago; that survey predates the attainment challenge and predates the reforms to our education system that are now under way.

The report certainly underlines the importance of those reforms. We will study the recommendations of the report carefully. The gap between the richest and poorest high-achieving pupils is actually lower in Scotland than it is in England, but I take no comfort from that because the report says that we must do better, and we are determined that we do just that.

Ruth Davidson

As always, the First Minister has her long list of excuses ready, but the answer to the question that I asked lies at the door of a Scottish National Party that has failed utterly over 10 years of government to set Scottish education on the right course. The First Minister fails to address some of the clear recommendations that are in that report this morning, which could make a difference to a child’s education. The Sutton Trust says that our best-performing schools should help support pupils in underperforming schools and that that could lead to supporting pupils and developing the leadership and professional learning of staff. It is an idea that we called for last year. Will the First Minister act on it?

Nicola Sturgeon

That is one of four key recommendations that are in the Sutton Trust report; indeed, we have already established what is called the insight system that allows teachers in the senior phase to see how their schools are performing compared to others, identify areas of success and identify where improvements can be made. Enabling schools to see where there is best practice and to learn from that best practice is already under way. We have already, as part of our governance reforms of course, committed to taking forward clusters of schools to allow different schools to learn from each other.

There are other recommendations in the report that we are already taking forward in different ways. One of the key recommendations is about how we monitor pupils; I heard someone from the Sutton Trust make the point on radio this morning about the importance of monitoring pupils at all levels of ability and all stages. That, of course, is what the national improvement framework is all about, informed by standardised assessments and the school-by-school data that we are now publishing.

We have a range of reforms that are under way to make sure that we improve attainment overall but close the attainment gap, and all that programme of work is backed and underpinned by the attainment fund. Just last week, John Swinney outlined how £120 million will be allocated directly to headteachers so that they are equipped to take forward this work so that we see the further improvements that we need to see over the years to come.

Ruth Davidson

I am surprised by the First Minister sounding so positive on that, because we know that a project—specifically, twinning flagship schools with underperforming schools in Scotland—was recently dumped by the Government without any real explanation and with Education Scotland confirming that there was no new money to keep it going.

The blunt truth is that the Sutton Trust findings on attainment in science are particularly shameful. To help to turn this round, we said that bursaries should be provided to attract the brightest graduates into science teaching, and last week the Royal Society of Edinburgh supported that call. Yesterday, the Scottish Government decided instead to launch a poster campaign. Does the First Minister really think that that is sufficient to get enough people into teaching?

The First Minister

Let me take on all of those individual points. On the particular programme that Ruth Davidson talks about, that approach was incorporated into our attainment challenge, including the approach that I talked about in my initial answer and underpinned by the additional funding in our attainment challenge and the work around clusters of schools. That is the right way to develop the work that has been done over the past few years.

On getting teachers into schools, it is a bit rich for a party that, south of the border, is taking bursaries away from many different professional groups to talk about bursaries. We will continue to take the steps that we consider to be appropriate, and John Swinney and the General Teaching Council for Scotland have announced over recent times a range of different ways in which we attract our best and brightest into teaching, particularly into areas where a shortage is identified. Ruth Davidson may mock some of what has been announced, but these are important initiatives to make sure that we get teachers coming into education in general, but also into the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We will continue to consider carefully whether there is more action that we should be taking.

On the attainment gap, I have said repeatedly—and will continue to say—that that is the priority for this Government, and we are absolutely focused on making sure that we take the action that will deliver further improvements. However, across a range of measures, whether on school exam passes or positive destinations, we are seeing signs in our education system of that attainment gap narrowing. I want to see it narrow further and faster, which is why we are taking the action that we are taking.

Ruth Davidson

And yet Scotland still has 4,000 fewer teachers than when her Government came to power. We now see the consequences of 10 wasted years of this SNP Government and the harm that it has done to the life chances of our pupils. In science, 15-year-olds in Scotland are two years behind children in Singapore. In reading, they are a year behind children in Finland, Canada and Ireland. In maths, they are a year behind children in the Czech Republic and Estonia. That is the legacy of this Government. A generation of Scottish children are being left behind in the race for qualifications and for future jobs.

Scotland used to lead the world in education. Why, under this SNP Government, are we always playing catch-up?

The First Minister

Ruth Davidson, in that final question, does a disservice to pupils and teachers across our country. I do not—and I never will—shy away from the challenges that we must address, but in our education system today, we have record high exam passes and record numbers of young people going into positive destinations after they leave school, and we also see signs, whether in exam passes, positive destinations or indeed access to university, of a narrowing of the attainment gap.

That is the reality but, as I repeatedly say, that is not good enough. That is why, since the data in the Sutton Trust report was gathered two years ago, we have embarked on a programme of reforms in our education, underpinned by substantial additional funding going straight into the hands of headteachers. There are headteachers right across this country right now who, last week, were told of the substantial additional funding that they will have at their direct disposal to invest in additional teachers or the things that they think will help to raise attainment.

That is solid action that we are determined to continue to focus on so that we deliver the improvements that young people and their parents across the country have a right to see.


2. Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-00872)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale

A new report today from the Sutton Trust exposes the Scottish National Party’s catastrophic failures on education—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Order, please.

Kezia Dugdale

They can groan all they like, Presiding Officer, but it is true and they should read it.

In the subjects that are most important to growing Scotland’s economy in the future, young people are being let down. Despite the hard work of pupils and teachers, the SNP’s failure is there for all to see.

Time and again I have come here and argued that the SNP is leaving the poorest children behind. The report shows that they are also holding the brightest children back. The First Minister said that education would be her “defining priority”, so why is her Government failing a whole generation of children?

The First Minister

At the risk of repeating the answers that I gave earlier, I say that it is an important report—I absolutely and readily accept that. However, the report is based on data from a survey that was carried out two years ago, and that is significant because that predates the programme of reforms that we have under way and the additional resources that we have made available through the attainment challenge and the attainment fund. Those approaches are not just getting resources into the hands of teachers but introducing standardised assessments, so that we track the progress of our young people more routinely and robustly. That is leading to the on-going publication of more transparent data and information about Scottish education, on a school-by-school basis, so that we can track our progress. They are important reforms.

Every politician in the chamber who raises issues about education is absolutely right to do so, such is their importance. However, politicians have an obligation to get behind the reforms that we are introducing. Members on the Labour benches initially backed some of the reforms but, when they came under pressure on them, decided that they did not back them after all. The Sutton Trust report underlines the importance and necessity of the reforms to education, which is why I hope that all members across the chamber will enthusiastically back them.

Kezia Dugdale

It is clear from that answer that, when the First Minister runs out of excuses, she just repeats them. She dismisses the report in today’s papers, but she cannot dismiss every report that preceded it. The question is this: how many reports about the state of education in Scotland does she have to get before she accepts the simple truth at the heart of each and every one? When we cut through all of them, we see that there is a simple truth that both the SNP and the Tories miss. If we want to give young people the best possible chance in life, we have to invest in them, and that means investing in local schools. What we have had from the SNP, however, is £1.5 billion-worth of cuts since 2011.

In Naomi Eisenstadt’s original report—that is the one that was not rewritten by the First Minister—the independent poverty adviser said:

“Any reduction in these services would be damaging for low income households.”

Who should we believe: the First Minister or her poverty adviser?

The First Minister

On Kezia Dugdale’s first comment, I did not dismiss the Sutton Trust report. Anybody watching this at home will have heard me say that it is an important report that aids our understanding of the challenges that we face. I simply pointed out that it is based on data that is already two years old and predates the work that we are doing.

Kezia Dugdale also wrongly claimed that I am dismissing previous reports. The Sutton Trust report that was published this morning, which I have read, is based on the programme for international student assessment report that was published in December. It is not new data. That does not make it unimportant, but it is an important contextual point to make.

Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right about investment in schools, which is why we have established the attainment fund. In the coming financial year, the attainment fund is putting £120 million into the hands of headteachers in 95 per cent of schools in this country. It adds to the £50 million that we were already investing through the attainment challenge. That is the kind of investment that we need to see in our schools and it is the kind of investment that this Government is delivering in our schools.

My last point on budgets is that, week in and week out, we have heard Kezia Dugdale stand up in the chamber and talk about what she claims are council cuts, yet this week we started to see Labour councils—such as Inverclyde yesterday—decide that they have enough money available to them without using the flexibility that we have given councils on council tax. Labour here in the Parliament repeatedly says that tax rises are necessary to protect services such as education, whereas Labour councillors are now saying the opposite—that Scottish Government funding is enough, so they do not have to raise the level of council tax. That proves the point that we are giving councils the resources to enable them not just to protect services but, in the case of education, to get more money into the hands of those who run our schools.

Kezia Dugdale

The First Minister has told us that she is giving councils the resources that they need, but we have just heard that she is putting in £120 million and taking out £1.5 billion from local services. The First Minister’s party has been in power for 10 years, and that is her record.

The Sutton Trust report proves beyond all doubt that teachers need more support to give young people the skills that they need for the future. Under the SNP, however, there are 4,000 fewer teachers in Scotland, and we have lost 826 science and maths teachers since the SNP took office. It is no wonder that John Swinney had to launch a recruitment drive for teachers yesterday.

So here we have it—teacher numbers are down and the attainment gap is widening. The only thing on the up under the SNP is cuts to schools. Even with a record that poor, a primary pupil can do the math. Why can’t the First Minister?

The First Minister

Kezia Dugdale certainly can’t do the math; perhaps she should ask Stephen McCabe, the leader of Inverclyde Council, to do it for her. As a result of the changes that Derek Mackay announced in the chamber last Thursday, £400 million of additional resources are now available for local services. That is the reality. That includes £120 million that is available for headteachers to deliver improvements in our schools.

Kezia Dugdale stands up here and talks about cuts in local services the day after the Labour leader of Inverclyde Council took to social media to boast that he had enough money, enabling him to become the leader who had frozen the council tax for longest in Scotland. While Labour members go on contradicting themselves from the sidelines, we will get on with delivering the improvement in education that parents and children have a right to expect.

The Presiding Officer

There are two constituency questions.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Will the First Minister join me in welcoming the Tay cities deal bid, with a plan to make Dundee and Angus a world centre for oil and gas decommissioning? I welcome the £5 million fund that she announced yesterday, although I agree with Gary Smith of the GMB that, given the scale of the opportunity, that is a “drop in the ocean”. Will she back the Tay cities deal proposal by guaranteeing at least half of the fund to Dundee so as to give us the best chance of securing decommissioning jobs?

The First Minister

As the Government has demonstrated through its actions, we are enthusiastic supporters of city deals, and we have already supported a number of them. We will continue to work with councils in Tayside to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to support development in Dundee and across Tayside.

I am glad that Jenny Marra welcomed the announcement yesterday of a £5 million decommissioning challenge fund. If she had read the material that was published yesterday—as I am sure she did, to be fair—she would have seen that that is an initial fund, with further funding expected in future years. Our supply chain already does very well in winning work in aspects of the decommissioning process, for example project management and the abandoning and plugging of wells, but we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to enable firms to compete successfully for work involving the removal of topsides and the disposal of rigs onshore. That is why that fund is so important.

We will continue to support production in the oil and gas industry, as the industry has a bright future ahead of it on that front. We will also ensure that Scottish firms, wherever they are—in Tayside or in the north-east, in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire—are well placed to take advantage of the benefits of decommissioning. Yesterday in Aberdeen, I met representatives of two firms that are doing just that, and I want more of them to be able to compete in that way.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Patients were turned away from the general practitioner out-of-hours service at the Vale of Leven hospital last Sunday—it had to close because there were no doctors to cover the rota. Yesterday, I was told of a private report from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that gives its preferred option of centralising the Vale of Leven out-of-hours service to the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley. Given that retaining GP out-of-hours services was a key commitment in the vision for the Vale, what action will the First Minister take to stop her health board from breaking her promise?

The First Minister

Jackie Baillie mentions, as she often—rightly—does in this chamber, the vision for the Vale. I simply remind her that the vision for the Vale is what we had to come up with while I was health secretary in order to protect the many services at the Vale of Leven that had been put under threat by the previous Administration. In fact, had that Labour Administration stayed in place, I very much doubt whether the Vale of Leven would be open as a hospital at all today. That is the reality.

We will continue to support services at the Vale of Leven and to support the vision for the Vale, so that the hospital and the excellent and dedicated staff who work there can continue to provide excellent services.

Cabinet (Meetings)

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-00869)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Cabinet will next meet on 21 February.

Patrick Harvie

The aviation industry claims to have an aim of halving its CO2 emissions by 2050, compared with 2005 levels. The United Kingdom Climate Change Committee, which is the Scottish Government’s chosen adviser on climate change, has ruled that aviation emissions should be no higher than 2005 levels by the same date. However, the Scottish Government’s climate action plan, which was published last month, implies that emissions in aviation will be reduced but does not say by how much or how that will be achieved, and the Scottish Government is now setting about redesigning the aviation tax regime without appearing to have any such target in mind and despite knowing that its tax proposal will increase emissions.

Does the Scottish Government have any idea of the actual level of aviation emissions that it considers to be acceptable?

The First Minister

The climate change plan sets out in detail across a range of sectors how we will go about meeting our climate change obligations. By its nature, the plan will develop over time and is one on which we would expect input from this chamber and from a range of sectors.

We have said repeatedly—and I will say again today—that the environment must be a consideration in every decision that we take, including any decisions around aviation and air passenger duty, which is, of course, what Patrick Harvie is getting at. We have also said before that, in order to meet our targets, if we pursue any policies that lead to any increase in emissions in one area, we must work harder in other areas to ensure that we drive down emissions overall.

I remind Mr Harvie that we are meeting our current climate change targets ahead of schedule and that we are about to go into a process of legislation in which we will toughen those targets. As we do so, we will continue to ensure that our policies—not only in that respect but across all of the responsibilities of the Government—take account of the environmental obligations that we have.

Patrick Harvie

I am afraid that the climate action plan does not give the details on aviation emissions the First Minister seems to suggest that it does. However, I am glad that she thinks that environmental considerations should be a factor in setting aviation tax levels. I hope, therefore, to have the Government’s support in ensuring that that is written into the legislation, so that no future government is able to ignore that important consideration.

What I found most astonishing in the evidence given by witnesses speaking in support of the Government’s proposal was that none of them seemed capable of producing a shred of credible evidence about what the impact will be on flight numbers, prices, job creation—they all produced different figures for that, mostly based on well out-of-date research and figures plucked from the air—the economy or public finances. Even those who cited some baseless prediction of extra tax being generated in the economy produced no robust evidence about how much would flow to the Scottish Government and how much would flow to the UK Treasury, and added to that is the lack of any clear position about the impact of the policy on the environment. The one thing that we do know about the policy is that it will be, in effect, a tax cut for a highly profitable, highly polluting industry while public transport languishes. Is it not time to shelve the whole plan until the Scottish Government has got anything approaching an evidence base?

The First Minister

It will be a tax cut for individuals and families who use air travel, including families going on holiday, who may welcome a reduction in the cost of their holiday.

In their evidence, those who support the policy have made clear statements about the impact of the policy in securing more routes from Scotland, more flights in and out of Scotland and more jobs in the industry. However, as we pursue the legislation around the devolution of air passenger duty and our budgets for future years, we take account of competing priorities—although we have been clear in our commitment on APD and I am clear about that commitment today. Across all our policy areas, the obligations that we have to reduce emissions and to protect our environment are absolutely key. That is why the climate change plan, backing up the legislation that is already in place and paving the way for the new legislation that we are going to introduce, is so important.

Let us not forget one of the central issues: Scotland is already meeting its climate change targets and is seen internationally as a world leader when it comes to reducing emissions and tackling climate change. That is something of which all of us should be proud. We must continue to ensure that, in everything we do, we set environmental standards that the rest of the world wants to emulate.

The Presiding Officer

There are some supplementary questions.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Did the First Minister note that, last night, the Labour Party signed a blank cheque to the Prime Minister to allow her, without further democratic reference, to determine the terms of leaving the European Union? Does she also note that paragraph 8.16 of the UK Government’s white paper says that there should be a “mutually beneficial” solution for the Spaniards and the UK in relation to fishing, clearly confirming a sell-out of our interests by the Tories once again?

The First Minister

Nobody should be surprised if the Tory Government is preparing to sell out the Scottish fishing industry, because it has done that on plenty of occasions before.

On the vote in the House of Commons last night, it is deeply regrettable that amendment after amendment was rejected by the Government. Those amendments simply asked for protection for EU nationals and asked the Government to commit to doing things like not breaching the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. All those amendments were rejected—not a single concession was won through any of them—yet the Labour so-called Opposition decided to vote for the bill and hand the Conservative Government a blank cheque. That is utterly pathetic and shows the weakness of the Opposition that there is in the United Kingdom Parliament in the form of the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn tweeted last night that the real fight begins now. How utterly pathetic. It is not so much closing the stable door after the horse has bolted as closing the stable door after the horse is dead and buried. The UK badly needs vigorous opposition in the House of Commons, and the SNP is providing it day in, day out. It is just a pity that the Labour Party is failing to do so.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

This week, the SNP has confirmed beyond all doubt that it no longer accepts the overall outcome of the democratic process. In the same spirit, will the First Minister guarantee that my constituents who voted neither for her as First Minister nor for this Scottish Government will not be forced to take part in a second independence referendum against their expressed will?

The First Minister

It is clear—and is becoming increasingly clear with every week that passes—that the people whom the Tories in this chamber represent are the Tory Government at Westminster. That is whom they are here to represent and stand up for.

I remind the member that 62 per cent of the people of Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. As the First Minister, I have a duty to stand up for the interests of this country and to do everything that I can to make sure that the Tories do not get away with taking Scotland off a hard-Brexit cliff edge, with the implications that that would have for jobs, investment, our economy as a whole and the very society that we live in.

On the question of a second independence referendum, I have been clear about my determination to find compromise; it just so happens that I am facing a UK Government that is not willing to compromise with me.

I have also said that I am determined to ensure that Scotland will not be dragged out of the EU and off that hard-Brexit cliff edge against its will. My mandate for that was in the manifesto that I was elected on just under one year ago.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

On Patrick Harvie’s question, does the First Minister think it hypocritical for politicians to oppose the expansion of aircraft flights and flight paths while sitting around the Cabinet table supporting airport expansion and the scrapping of air passenger duty, both of which are designed to increase flights and flight paths?

The First Minister

As I have said before, and as I think that most people recognise, we have to strike the right balance between ensuring that our economy can grow and that we provide the infrastructure and travel connections—whether through public transport, road networks or aviation—that support economic growth and maintaining the focus on the environment that I have spoken about.

Scotland is leading the world when it comes to tackling climate change, and all of us across this chamber should be proud of that.


4. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what legislation is in place to deal with drug-driving. (S5F-00890)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Drug-driving, like drink-driving, can ruin lives. Taking illegal drugs and driving is completely and utterly irresponsible. Scotland has long-standing legislation in place that makes it an offence to drive while impaired due to drugs. It is used by Police Scotland, prosecutors and courts to ensure that those who take drugs and drive can be held to account for putting their lives and those of others at risk. Our priority is to help to make Scotland’s roads safer, and we will always consider carefully any policies that can help us further that goal.

Stuart McMillan

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am member of the management board of Moving On (Inverclyde), a drug rehabilitation service.

The First Minister will be aware that drug-driving limits were introduced in England and Wales in 2015 and that an evaluation of the impact of those limits is likely to be published in the next few months. Will the Scottish Government looks at the evaluation and the impact that the limits have had? Will she consider fully introducing further legislation in Scotland, if it is deemed appropriate to do so?

The First Minister

Yes, we will. The member raises an important point. The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to making our roads safer based on the evidence of what works. Indeed, in 2014, we prioritised legislation to lower the drink-drive limit as evidence showed that lives would be saved by doing that.

We will study carefully the available evidence showing the impact that drug-driving limits have had since they were introduced in England and Wales with a view to considering whether legislation should be introduced to establish such limits here. If the evidence shows that that has been successful and that lives can be saved, we would not hesitate to legislate here.

Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I welcome some of the comments that the First Minister has made. However, as Stuart McMillan said, the legislation changed in England and Wales two years ago. While he is waiting for an evaluation, we know that there has been a fourfold increase in the number of motorists charged with drug-driving and that conviction rates have risen from 52 to 95 per cent. Is that not the evidence that the First Minister needs? Why is Scotland behind the curve, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, on this important issue?

The First Minister

That is some of the evidence that we will want to look at and make sure that we respond to. It is important to stress, so that anyone who is listening can this hear loudly and clearly, that it is already an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs. Clearly, while we are taking part in what is an important discussion, none of us should allow that message to be underplayed.

When the police suspect a motorist of drug-driving, they can already carry out the roadside test. If the driver fails the test, that can provide sufficient evidence for the police to arrest the driver and take them to the police station where further tests can be carried out. In this country, it is already an offence for someone to drive a car if they are impaired due to drugs. Absolutely nobody should do such a thing.

We will wait for the evaluation of the drug-driving limits in England and Wales to inform our consideration of the best approach to the issue in Scotland and to see whether that development would help us to make our roads even safer.

It is, as I am sure that all members will understand, a complex area. I understand that, in England and Wales, there are individual limits for 17 drug types. The evaluation is due to be published this year. We expect it to be helpful, and it will build on the evidence that the member has already cited so that we can understand the full practical implications of drug-driving limits and whether the potential benefits have been realised in England and Wales.

Although I stress that one death on our roads is one too many, I make the point that our roads are generally becoming safer overall. That is a good thing, but it should also increase our determination to ensure that we do anything reasonable to make them even safer still.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

In relation to legislation on driving offences, under the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, the police have authority to issue a written warning for driving that they consider causes alarm, distress or annoyance. If there is a repeat of that offence within 12 months, they have authority to confiscate the vehicle, but there is no appeal procedure in relation to the written warning. Will the Government revisit that legislation? It seems to me that it is in breach of article 6 of the European convention on human rights, which concerns the right to a fair hearing.

The First Minister

I am happy to look into the matter and to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to reply to Christine Grahame. Without prejudging the response that we will give in due course to that question, I say that it is important that the police have the tools that they need to make our roads as safe as they possibly can be. That is why I stress the law as it stands but also say readily that we must look at evidence from elsewhere in the UK to see whether there are further steps that we can take.

It is important that the police have the tools that they need, but I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to look into the specific issue that Christine Grahame raises and respond to her as quickly as possible.

Delayed Discharge

5. Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to reduce the number of delayed discharges from hospitals. (S5F-00874)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The integration of health and social care is the key driver in helping to reduce delays in discharge. We have seen progress. The latest census shows that the number of bed days lost to delays is lower than it was in the previous year, and that every month in this financial year has shown a decrease compared to the corresponding month in the previous year. To make further progress, the draft budget for 2017-18 plans for almost £500 million of national health service investment in social care and integration.

Finlay Carson

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport promised to eradicate bed blocking two years ago, but the latest statistics show that in November 2016 people who were fit to leave spent more than 45,000 days in hospital. Last month, it was revealed that nearly 700 people died in Scotland’s hospitals while waiting to be discharged. This week, we heard that one patient in Dumfries and Galloway was stuck in hospital for 508 days awaiting discharge.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I and my colleagues all recognise the fantastic commitment and professionalism of our NHS staff and thank them for that. Does the First Minister accept responsibility for that dismal record, and accept that more needs to be done to prevent vulnerable people from being stranded in hospital?

The First Minister

I absolutely accept the importance of our continuing to make progress in reducing and eradicating delayed discharges in our hospitals.

On reports that we see about very long waits, I will not get into individual cases. It is important that we take care when talking about such cases because we often find that what appear to be, and are, exceptionally long waits are complex situations. For example, some people who wait for very long periods are subject to the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, so the reason for their continuing to be in hospital is completely outwith the control of our health and social care services—they are waiting for processes in our court system.

Although we absolutely still have work to do, we are seeing a steady reduction in bed days lost through delayed discharge in Scotland. I think—I have spoken to people in our health and social care services who tell me this—that that is down to the benefits that are now coming through the system from integration and the investment that we are taking from the acute health service to put into expanding social care services. It is important that we accelerate, and keep focused on, that work.

The last point that I will make is not in any way to say that we do not have more work to do in Scotland, or to absolve the Scottish Government of its responsibilities. What we are seeing in delayed discharges, similar to accident and emergency performance, is real divergence between the experience and performance of the NHS in Scotland and the NHS in other parts of the United Kingdom. Delayed discharges are going up in England. The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust have both said that the official figures for England do not even tell the full story, but hide much of the reality of the situation.

We have more work to do, but let us get behind the people who work in our health and social care services, because the Government has made the reform to the system in the shape of integration and is putting in the resources to ensure that they can do the work, so that we can continue to see reductions in, and the eventual eradication of, delayed discharges in our hospitals.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I thank Finlay Carson for drawing attention to the Liberal Democrat investigation into the issue. Further to that, today we have published additional fresh statistics that show that as of mid-January, patients in Lothian, Highland and Ayrshire and Arran were waiting for as long as 200 days or more to be discharged from hospital after they had been deemed fit to go home. In Glasgow there is a patient who has waited more than 370 days for discharge, after being deemed fit to go home.

Two weeks ago, Dr Patrick Statham, a consultant neurosurgeon at the Western general hospital, came to my constituency office to bemoan the biggest crisis in his career: every week, he and his colleagues have to turn away patients and cancel operations because of bed blocking in the hospital. Will the First Minister accept Patrick Statham’s invitation to visit the Western general this afternoon to explain to his patients why their operations have been cancelled?

The First Minister

I have visited the Western general hospital many, many times in the years in which I have been in Government—especially when I was Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing. I am always delighted to visit the Western general and look forward to doing so again in the not-too-distant future.

Bed blocking is an important issue. I will say to Alex Cole-Hamilton what I said to Finlay Carson: we do not want anyone to be in hospital any longer than they have to be, but we should be careful, particularly when we are dealing with examples of very long waits. When those examples are raised with me in Parliament and I look into the specific circumstances, I find more often than not that such very long waits are a result of very complex situations, often involving the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000. That means that the situation is not that the person’s discharge is being delayed because of anything that the health and social care services are not doing, but because of the court processes for adults with incapacity.

There are often other complexities in such cases. For example, I heard of a case—I will not go into the details—in which the person was in hospital longer than they should have been because the accommodation that had to be provided for that person was so specialised that it took a long time to prepare.

I simply caution members against citing such cases as evidence of a wider issue. The wider issue in terms of delayed discharges in Scotland is that although we still have work to do, the number of bed days that are lost to delayed discharges is coming down—unlike in other parts of the UK—which is a good thing. As I have said, that is not happening accidentally; it is happening because of integration of health and social care, increased investment and, above all else, the hard work of the people who work in our health and care systems across the country.

Mental Health (Children)

6. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to recent NSPCC figures, which show that thousands of children with serious mental health problems turned to Childline last year. (S5F-00882)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

More children and young people are coming forward to ask for help, which shows that, in the past, there were far too many children who were not seen and whose needs were not met. We want people to come forward to ask for help from whatever agency they feel most comfortable with, including Childline. It is not the wrong response for a young person to contact Childline, which is exactly why the Government continues to support Childline financially—this year to the tune of £310,000.

Monica Lennon

This week, the Scottish children’s services coalition highlighted the fact that the number of children with identified mental health problems in schools more than doubled between 2012 and 2016. Those statistics come from the Scottish Government’s own pupil census. Scottish Government statistics confirm that, over the same period, the number of educational psychologists who are employed in Scotland continued to fall. Applications for postgraduate study have been plummeting since 2012, which is the year when the Scottish Government removed bursary funding for trainee educational psychologists.

Is the First Minister willing to consider reinstating funding support for trainee educational psychologists? What assurances can she give that the Minister for Mental Health and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills are working jointly to urgently address the mental health crisis in our classrooms?

The First Minister

According to the most recent figures, the number of child and adolescent mental health services psychology posts has increased by almost 60 per cent and, overall, the number of psychology services posts has gone up by more than 60 per cent. The total number of applied psychology posts has gone up by 60 per cent, too. Overall, the CAMHS workforce has increased by 50 per cent. That reflects the additional investment that we are putting into mental health services.

Monica Lennon is right to raise the issue; she raises it regularly, and I commend her for doing so. She started her question by talking—rightly—about the increase in the number of young people with identified mental health needs. That reflects something that I have repeatedly said. We know that, in the past, many young people were not identified and did not get the help that they needed. Because of the reduced stigma and other factors, more young people with mental health needs are now identified and therefore able to access the support that they need. We are continuing to invest in mental health services to increase the workforce, reduce waiting times and make sure that young people get access to the services that they need in a timely fashion.

As for school liaison, I have said previously in the chamber—I think that I have done so in the past few weeks—that the health service cannot deal with the issue on its own. Joint working between our education system, councils and health services is extremely important and, when the mental health strategy is published, it will reflect the need for joint working.

On the issue of Childline, which the thrust of the question was about—

Monica Lennon

What about the bursaries?

The First Minister

We will continue to provide bursary and financial support where we consider that to be necessary. Just a couple of weeks ago, we announced increased bursary support for nurses in our health service.

I do not want to finish my answer without thanking Childline for the work that it does. Childline is an essential resource for young people, which is why the Government will go on supporting it with the financial help that we provide.